Warren Miller: The condo caper
Vail, CO, Colorado
I have spent most of my life traveling with suitcases full of cameras, lenses, film and assorted stuff, but never have I traveled with as many suitcases as my wife brings along for a weekend of skiing.
She can never make up her mind as to what clothes she will want to wear until she gets to wherever we are going. As a result, she always packs as though she is going on a 9-month-long ski trip around the world, visiting at least 30 ski resorts. And keep in mind that each resort has different customs and different dress codes.
This particular time we were just going to stay in our friends’ condominium for a weekend of early season, get-in-shape-skiing on man-made snow. After taking up a good portion of the cargo space in a 737 for her luggage, we rented a 12-passenger van for the four of us who were traveling together. We loaded the van with eleventeen suitcases, and after the long stop-and-go drive from the airport to the ski resort, I was really exhausted.
Now, we had to somehow get into the condominium we had borrowed for the weekend. To do this, we needed the owners’ code that my wife got from them on her cell phone by calling our friend in his office in New York City. I punched that number into the keypad that was right next to a very intimidating 8-foot-tall iron gate which kept us from driving into the underground garage.
Once inside the garage, we walked up to the front door to be confronted by yet another keypad that required a different code. It took another long-distance cell phone call to New York to get it.
By this time, the owner had gone to lunch, so his secretary had to find him on his cell phone. She put us on hold, while she waited for him to call his wife at the tennis club on her cell phone, all to get this code.
Eleven minutes later, we got the second code, which gave us front door entrance. This let us into the lobby where there was no one in sight and not a sound to be heard. I sensed that aside from a guard somewhere and maybe the janitor, we were the only people in the seven-story building. (It was two weeks before the ski season would officially begin.)
Once we found the right condominium unit, a third keypad number was required to open the door into a four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath penthouse condo. I don’t know what my friend does for a living, but he sure is good at it.
Our weekend of skiing went off quite nicely, considering that we could only make turns on one run that was open with 4 inches of man-made snow. To get to that run, we had to ride the lift over the obvious sight and smell of the remains of the brushfire from the weekend before.
Two days later, when it came time to leave, I told my wife and our two guests that I would push the heavily loaded luggage cart down the hall to the garage.
As I was pushing it down the hall, into the elevator and later to the garage, I again tried to figure out why women have a gene in their makeup that won’t let them decide what clothes to wear until they get where they are going.
I almost had the answer when I realized that the ramp down to the garage was a lot steeper than I remembered it. As I struggled with the eleventeen suitcases on the cart, which was now rapidly gaining speed down the ramp, it got away from me and began bouncing off of the walls until it finally crashed through the glass door to the garage.
A thousand pounds of suitcases full of clothes for my wife, me and the other couple who were traveling with us went careening through the broken glass door, slammed into the side of our rented van and slowly tipped over.
Breaking the glass door triggered the fire alarm. Before I could get the suitcases into the 12-passenger van, the condominium guard rushed out of a side door, screaming at me in Spanish. (Note: Spanish is the native language of many of the employees in that part of the Rocky Mountains.)
He made me put my hands over my head and then against the van while he patted me down for any concealed weapons. About that time, most of the fire department came running down the ramp into the subterranean garage with hoses at the ready.
This was when my wife, Laurie, showed up and produced enough identification for both of us to get into the Pentagon. She even produced a letter from our friends authorizing our stay in their condo. It was only then that the guard was convinced we weren’t robbing one of the condos.
As I stood there, surveying the damage to our rented van, I found myself wondering what was happening with everyone else on the first ski weekend this season. For me it was just another case of me lurching from one near disaster to the next.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff log onto Warren Miller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to http://www.warrenmiller.org.